Thursday, April 18, 2013

Lindsay Townsend: A little Egyptian magic - scenes from 'Blue Gold'

Blue Gold is a mainstream historical romance but, because of the ancient world setting, it contains strong paranormal and magical elements. When I wrote it, I incorporated magic as part of the beliefs appropriate to the times.
Ancient Egyptians believed in magic, gods and spirits - magic especially was practised as a means to influence and change fate and to give power. In this scene from Blue Gold, the ambitious princess Ahhotpe is attempting to ill-wish a political rival:

Ahhotpe shot a second glance at the wax figure posted just inside the doorway of her tent. Noon was not the most propitious time for magic, but the midday heat ensured that her people were resting and that consequently she would be unobserved. When she saw the shaft of sun chink through the closed tent flaps and strike the figure, the young woman laid aside her letter.
She had fashioned it well, rolling and mashing the wax between her fingers, infecting it with her hatred, until a startling likeness formed. That same narrow forehead and wide jaw, the bull neck and broad chest, the wider hips and massive legs: the Pyramid in miniature, three fingers high. Ahhotpe smiled as she settled cross-legged before the model. It was, she thought, the closest she might ever come willingly to Zoser. Invoking the proper forms, she thrust the first small copper pin deep into the manikin’s heart.
This kind of sympathetic magic was practised throughout Egyptian society, by princes and peasants alike. Sometimes more formal magic was evoked, and this could be through ritual and through symbolism, as in the Heb Sed rite described by Pharaoh’s mother Tetisheri:

Tetisheri beckoned to the little girl in Ahhotpe’s saffron-colored dress. “My, a pretty girl! Let’s do your hair like a lady.”
Her fingers were nimble, artistic. Ahhotpe stood nearby and picked an old song on her harp, letting the servants see how very much alike she and Tetisheri were.
“Do you know what a Heb Sed festival is, my darling?” Tetisheri stroked the child’s forehead.
“No, granny.” The little girl naturally used this title. Tetisheri was every child’s grandmother.
“It’s a special time for the King, a sort of birthday. He runs along a magic track, and the gods make him youthful again and fit to rule the whole of Egypt.” Tetisheri cuddled the little girl. “Now you can go to the party.”
“Have you seen a Heb Sed festival, grandmother?” asked Ahhotpe, re-tuning her harp.
“I saw my husband’s, Sekenenre’s daddy.” Tetisheri suddenly tugged off her wig and fanned her sparse brown hair. “He ran straight from the track into my bedroom!” She and Ahhotpe, and then the other women, laughed.
“Surely thirty years have not passed since then,” remarked Ahhotpe. “Kamose says you look younger than I do.”
“That’s brothers for you,” replied Tetisheri, pleased none the less at the compliment. “But you’re right, little one. My boy hasn’t ruled as long yet, but he wants the magic the festival will give him.”
“Isn’t it dangerous? Pharaoh running alone?”
“Well, things have grown rougher since my husband’s time,” admitted Tetisheri, “but Sekenenre doesn’t want anyone else’s feet under his table, so to speak.” The old woman sighed. “For myself, I’d certainly feel easier if Kamose ran with him.”
“So would I, granny,” said Ahhotpe.

Sometimes magic was made through more formal rituals. Magic was an accepted part of religion and of medicine. People wore ‘lucky’ charms and amulets. A mother would recite a spell to see off sickness in her child. The sign of the Ankh, the cross of life, was carved or painted on furniture and tombs as a magic protection.
In the ancient story, “King Khufu and the Magicians,” a wizard makes a crocodile of wax. When this is thrown into the water, it becomes a real crocodile. Another wizard is summoned to the Pharaoh Snefru (Khufu’s father) because Snefru is sad. As a diversion, the wizard suggests that Snefru goes boating on the Nile, rowed by beautiful women dressed in nets instead of clothes. 'And they rowed to and fro,' the story goes on, 'and the heart of his majesty was glad when he beheld how they rowed'. You bet.

Blue Gold 
4.5 Books: "A sweeping epic set in ancient Egypt, this story encompasses life as it was lived then, told masterfully by Ms. Townsend...The detail is luxuriously embedded in a story so compelling the reader will not want the book to end. What I love most about Ms. Townsend's prose is the ability to give the reader an almost holographic entry into life and times long past. You smell the fear, feel the passion, the frustration and anger, and burn under a hot, unforgiving sun, among other delightful stirrings of the senses." -- Honeysuckle, Long and Short Reviews

B review: "Beyond an Egyptian setting, I wasn't sure what to expect with "Blue Gold" as I didn't read the description until after I'd finished the story. And what a story. It's a sprawling 1970s miniseries crossed with a soap opera crossed with the epic sword and sandal movies made only in the 1950s. Plus it's got almost as many characters as Cecile B. DeMille managed to pack into his films." -- Jayne, Dear Author
"The sands of Townsend’s Egypt are blood-soaked, and the halls of her palaces echo with lust and intrigue — and yet, the most interesting part of her novel is how real, how human all of her characters feel (even the supernatural ones). Even while you’re booing and hissing her villains, you’re fully informed as to their motives and might even sympathize a little. Part of this effect can be attributed to Townsend’s keen ear for dialogue and phrasing (when two characters kiss we’re told “their lips met with the greedy accuracy of lovers”) — and the effect is so strong that when all the book’s grandstanding and conniving and personal drama has concluded, readers will be mildly shocked to be reminded that the whole delightfully complicated business happened three thousand years ago. That’s praise indeed." -- Steve Donoghue, Historical Novel Society

Best wishes, Lindsay Townsend

Friday, April 12, 2013

A Look at American Poet, Emily Dickinson

Daguerreotype of Emily Dickinson circa 1846/7

By: Stephanie Burkhart 

In the US, April is considered National Poetry Month so I thought I'd share one of my favorite poets today with you on the blog, Emily Dickinson.

Emily Dickinson is considered a major American poet alongside Robert Frost, T.S. Eliot, and Walt Whitman. Schools have been named after and her poetry is taught in American Middle Schools through college. She's been placed on stamps and was the topic of a Broadway play, "The Belle of Amherst," in 1976. While Dickinson's legacy retains a vitality that refuses to die, during her lifetime she was a recluse, often refusing to leave her home. She harbored a fascination with death and dying and embraced poetry techniques that were frowned upon in the 19th Century. Now her poetry has been acknowledged as innovative and modern.

So what makes her poetry stand out?

Dickinson wrote close to 1800 poems, but less than a dozen were published during her life. She employed the extensive use of dashes and unconventional capitalization along with an idiosyncratic vocabulary and imagery. Her meter is often irregular and she prefers trimeter to iambic pentameter. She also prefers slant rhymes (words that sound the same, but don't exactly rhyme like lover and brother) and the best way to sum up her poetry is that it is consistently nontraditional.

Dickinson mainly wrote from 1858 until her death. Only 5 poems can be traced earlier than 1858. She employed humor, puns, irony, and satire in her writing. (she wasn't all about 'death')

Major Themes

Flowers and Gardens
Nature allowed Dickinson's imagination and emotions to flourish. These poems evoke youth, humility, prudence, and insight.

"Master" poems
Several poems are addressed to "the Master," human, yet godlike, possibly a Christian muse.

Many people Dickinson came to care for – friends, family, and influential writers died early in life, leaving Dickinson with a sad heart. She's not afraid to explore death and morbidity and several poems talk about death by crucifixion, drowning, hanging, suffocation, freezing, premature burial, shooting, and stabbing. These are her most psychologically complex poems.

Dickinson considered herself a Christian and explored many of Jesus' teaching in her gospel-themed poems. Many of these poems are addressed to Jesus.

Undiscovered Continent
For Dickinson, the undiscovered continent is a tangible landscape where one can visit with the mind and spirit. It's a dwelling place for ones' self. Some of these poems invoke a nature landscape and some invoke darkness, like in a castle or a long hall.


Dickinson's younger sister, Lavinia, found the poems after Emily died, and they were published in 1890. Unfortunately, at that time they were edited, primarily for punctuation to fit the expectations of 19th Century poetry. This editing changed many meanings. In 1955, her poems were released again unedited in the original form she'd composed them. She's been in print since 1890.

About Emily Dickinson

She was born in 1830 and raised in Amherst, Massachusetts. She had an older brother and a younger sister. As a young woman, she attended Amherst Academy and Mt. Holyoke College. Her literary influences include Shakespeare, Wordsworth and Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Emily sought seclusion as a choice after the deaths of several friends. Though she took a trip with her family to Washington, DC and Philadelphia, she preferred to stay at home.

Dickinson's Appeal

Emily Dickinson appeals to me because of her word play, her themes, and her unusual choices. I first read her poem, "I heard a fly buzz when I died," as a teenager in high school and while morbid, it challenged me on so many levels – the odd punctuation, the word play, but ultimately I thought how lonely one must be that a fly buzzing is the last thing one hears before one dies.


I heard a Fly buzz – when I died –
The Stillness in the Room
Was like the Stillness in the Air –
Between the Heaves of Storm –

The Eyes around – had wrung them dry –
And Breaths were gathering firm
For that last Onset – when the King
Be witnessed – in the Room –

I willed my Keepsakes – Signed away
What portions of me be
Assignable – and then it was
There interposed a Fly –

With Blue – uncertain stumbling Buzz –
Between the light – and me –
And then the Windows failed – and then
I could not see to see –

Author Bio: Stephanie Burkhart is a 911 Dispatcher for LAPD. She's published paranormal, contemporary, and steampunk romance. She's also a published children's author. She adores chocolate and two cups of coffee to start off the day. You can find her at: 
Stephanie Burkhart 







You can find a list of my poetry at here:

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

An 18th Century Pharmacy in Southern France

Beth Elliott

The town of Saint-Lizier in the Pyrenees dates from the 5th Century and has a rich variety of historical monuments of many periods. It is on the pilgrim route to Compostela and its cathedral is dedicated to St James.


An 18th century Bishop founded a Hotel Dieu [hospital], which was completed in 1764. The entrance to the hospital pharmacy is through the blue gate in the photo above. The pharmacy remains exactly as it was originally built. The amber coloured wood used for the shelves and cupboards came from fruit trees and is made in the style of Louis XV.


                         Crédit photo: office du tourisme de Saint Lizier


As well as the straight shelves on all four walls, there are four matching corner cupboards, with glass panelled fronts. All the pots and bowls on the shelves were made specially at a pottery near Toulouse. Every pot has the name of the remedy it contains painted on before the pots were fired, so there was no possibility of mistakes with the contents.


A little more grisly, in one corner cupboard there is the set of surgical tools, including knives and saws. There are also two large, marble topped tables for preparing medicines or for operating on sick people.

The Vinegar of the Four Thieves

From records kept in the hospital, it has been possible to reconstitute the 'Vinegar of the Four Thieves'. This remedy protected against the plague. During one terrible outbreak of plague in Toulouse in 1630, four thieves were caught stealing from the dead victims. These four did not become ill with plague, and the doctors discovered that the men had concocted a lotion that they spread on themselves, [hands, face, armpits and nether regions] which prevented the fleas from jumping on them. In exchange for the recipe, they escaped execution. The remedy is based on vinegar and many herbs, plus camphor.

For more information on Saint-Lizier, see 

April and May -with a touch of Eastern promise; May 2010

The Rake's Challenge - July 2011  "full of enjoyable moments" - Rachel A Hyde,

The Wild Card Kindle edition  May 2012